Book reviews

Extract from The Weekend Australian book review – 2017.07.22

This is an important book that deserves a wide audience because he is prepared to tell the truth about the decrepit state of NSW Labor in the post-Bob Carr era. Its publication is timely ahead of next weekend’s Labor state conference.

The author tells me that the party had to atone for allowing “criminals” to effectively appoint three premiers following Carr’s retirement in 2005. Scully is referring to sub-faction kingmakers Obeid from the right and Macdonald from the left. Appointing the premier, one observer tells me, was like the mafia lounging around in the back of a greasy pizza parlour in New York, dividing the spoils among the made men (and women) …
~ Troy Bramston, Senior Writer at The Australian.

Extract from Inside Story book review – 2017.07.10

…Scully has a gift for narrative and an eye for an amusing anecdote. He paints a vivid picture of the raw realities of political life: the adrenalin-pumping highs and gut-wrenching disappointments; the sheer bastardry and the acts of magnanimity; the satisfaction of changing people’s lives for the better and the frustration of being unable to implement necessary reform…
~ David Clune, Inside Story

Review by Malcolm Kerr for The Sydney Institute


Former New South Wales Premier Morris lemma told the Sydney Morning Herald that if Carl Scully wanted to know why he did not become premier he should look in the mirror.

Well, Carl Scully has been doing a lot of reflecting. The result is a very detailed but entertaining political memoir of 460 pages. Its title Setting the Record Straight – a political memoir could easily be entitled “Getting Square”. No opponent Scully encountered, in a long and eventful career in politics, emerges unscathed from his action-packed account of his journey.

Born in 1957, Scully grew up in Chatswood. He describes his father as a “soft Labor supporter” and his mother as a “pretty strong Liberal supporter”. However, there was a Labor family heritage. Scully’s grandfather in 1920 was elected to the NSW Parliament. His great uncle was a member of the federal parliament between 1937 and 1949 and served as a Minister in both the Curtin and Chifley governments, a pedigree which was a source of pride and inspiration to young Carl.

Carl became a convinced Whitlamite. Having joining the Labor Party as an 18 year old, he immersed himself in factional warfare on behalf of the Right of the party. Finishing an Arts/Law degree from Macquarie University, Scully practised for a while as a solicitor. Unfortunately, the book provides few details of his legal career. This would have been of interest to readers of Workplace Review as he once instructed the one of esteemed co-editors of this journal.

Anyone interested in entering parliament would do well to study the careful planning undertaken by Scully to gain Labor Party pre-selection for the state seat of Smithfield. Elected to state parliament at a by-election in 1990, Scully continued as a fierce warrior for the ALP Right wing. Entering parliament as an opposition member, he asked one of his factional colleagues, “When are we going to get stuck into them?” He had to be told that being in parliament required one to get stuck into the government, rather than the party’s Left.

No doubt, as a non-drinking vegetarian, Scully was a puzzle to the carnivores and Reschs drinkers in the Labor Right. This was compounded by the fact that, despite his Irish Catholic background, Scully was an atheist. This revelation brought a look of horror to the face of the Legislative Council president, “Johnno” Johnson, who was very much part of the Right wing papal mafia.

Scully worked out early that to climb the greasy pole would owe more to mates than merit. He therefore attached himself to the “Terrigals”, a sub-set of the Right guided by Eddie Obeid, Sr. The faction acquired this name from the location of Obeid’s holiday home also known as “The Plotting Shed”. The Obeid weekender also served as a private meeting place for Obeid and his acolytes.

Scully makes no secret of his closeness to Obeid. In fact, when Scully was elected to the Ministry he was prepared to give up his spot for his patron Obeid. Having gracefully declined the offer, Obeid had to wait four more years to get into the Ministry.

Joining Cabinet after Bob Carr’s 1995 victory, Scully served in a number of portfolios. He spent the longest period as Minister for Roads and Transport. From this vantage point, he provides an insider’s account of the Carr and lemma governments.

Carr was, in Scully’s view, the non-executive chairman and the Treasurer, Michael Egan, the government’s chief operating officer. Nevertheless, Carr was the master communicator, his handling of the media constantly getting the Carr Government out of trouble.

No one doubts Scully was a hardworking Minister. In fact, he has reproduced a day from his ministerial diary to make his point. Unfortunately, Scully had a falling out with Egan almost from the beginning of the government. This enmity was a serious obstacle to Scully proceeding with major infrastructure projects. However, Scully did deliver large undertakings and significant road safety reforms. One anecdote of Scully’s exposure to the workings of Cabinet Government deserves be quoted in full:

There is a room full of relevant public sector CEOs, several relevant ministers and advisors. Perhaps 30 or so huddled in a small room just next to the larger cabinet room. Premier Bob Carr was in the Chair. I said to the Treasurer: “Treasurer, that is a whole lot of treasury, purchaser provider gobbledegook” and his response was priceless; “You are a fuckwit.” I then retorted, “l always know when you have lost an argument, as you play the man and not the ball.” And his response was even better: “That just proves you’re a fuckwit.” Carr stepped in and asked Egan to calm down before the Treasurer chimed in again with: “Okay, but he’s a fucken prick.” Nothing like a good intellectual discussion in the New South Wales cabinet!” (page 297)

On hearing of Carr’s resignation, Scully believed his moment had come. When announcing his nomination with the premier, Scully told the mediator, “l will bring sparkle and verve to the job.” He has been dogged by the nickname “Sparkles” ever since. Having for years dreamed of being premier, Scully had developed a detailed policy blueprint that he would implement on becoming premier. The present government would be wise to study the reform agenda Scully includes in his book.

The painful story of how Scully’s premiership hopes were dashed by his “mates” is told with searing honesty. Obeid, Joe Tripodi and Labor secretary Mark Arbib, made the choice that Morris lemma had a better chance of winning the next election. Scully and his hopes were jettisoned by the hard heads of the Right.

Scully joined the “almost men” who include Laurie Brereton, Paul Hasluck,

Rab Butler and Roy Jenkins. Men who had made their mark in parliament and cabinet and were labelled as future leaders, palpable, but never attained the leadership of their respective parties.

Worse was to come at the hands of lemma. Scully was sacked from Cabinet for allegedly misleading parliament on two occasions. He then made what he now considers a big mistake. He left parliament at the 2007 election.

Although out of parliament, Scully, in an act of schadenfreude, chronicles lemma’s inglorious time as premier. Scully does not forget to record lemma’s and Treasurer Michael Costa’s then futile and politically fatal attempt to privatise the state’s electricity assets.

The book ends happily with Scully having enjoyed a successful business career after leaving parliament.

Any current or aspiring member of parliament should read this book. It gives a compelling account of how to attain, keep and use political power. It is also a great read for anyone with a deep interest in New South Wales politics.

Malcolm Kerr OAM was a busy Sydney barrister before becoming member for the seat of Cronulla for the Liberal Party, 1984-2011. This review was commissioned by and will appear in the Spring 2017 issue of Thomson Reuters Workplace Review.

Amazon readers say …
5-star rating on AmazonA story well told and a book well worth reading.
I could not put this book down. Each page promised more and more fascinating insight into NSW state and Australian federal politics. It’s written in an easy, confident style which is instantly engaging. I felt that I was sat with Carl Scully, himself, as he shared his experiences with me. His passion for political service is obvious and he pulls no punches while he maps out his journey to the position of state minister for the NSW government. Definitely a recommended read! ~ By Amazon Customer on 31 July 2017

5-star rating on AmazonA must read for leaders and those who aspire to leadership
At the moment there are few political leaders who inspire and are in the business of leadership to really try and make a difference to their community. In Carl Scully’s engaging book he demonstrates how ideals and a commitment to improve life for working men and women can become a reality despite many obstacles along the way. How refreshing!

Although this book is a political memoir, it has something for everyone. A practical guide of how to win a pre-selection, developing leadership in others by setting goals and building teams to attain those goals. It also shows how problem solving is so essential to effective leadership. There are also amusing anecdotes of ministerial life which jump off the page and keep the reader engaged from beginning to end. I particularly liked his practical account of a day in the life of a minister and how he and his agencies delivered successful transport for the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

This is a must read for aspiring leaders of any description, those interested in political processes, those who wonder exactly how major infrastructure is actually delivered from the initial idea to completion, and for anyone else who wants a really good read! ~ By Elizabeth on 25 July 2017

5-star rating on AmazonA ‘must read’ to understand the difficulties of getting things done in government and for those who want to make a difference
Upon picking up this book you would think that it would be just about the never ending political struggle of Labour versus Liberal. Upon actually reading it, it was not what I expected. For anyone who aspires to a career in politics it is a “must read” for the real struggle is battling forces from within your own party and then the battle to secure project funding and dealing with all the machinery of government for any given portfolio.

It is a read that is hard to put down once I started it, and for me the standout was how difficult it was to achieve funding for much needed infrastructure, or indeed the ongoing maintenance of infrastructure that we already have. This was no more revealing than the battle to run a railway system with the treasurers forced noose of ‘economic rationalism’ by breaking up the railway into compartments that must compete against each other. To separate rail infrastructure (RIC) and rail access (RAC) into corporations that only antagonised each other, as the fatally flawed British ‘Network Rail’ model ultimately proved, was never going to work. My rail industry associates look back that period with their usual cynical sense of humour as “RIC, RAC and Ruin”, upon reading Carl’s book, how true it turned out to be.

Then to experience the great success of the Sydney Olympics and highs like the M7 and M5 East certainly made for a career of mixed emotions, and to have motorways and railways cancelled by a supposed fellow colleague, would just break ones heart…. But wait! There’s more, read on, it’s hard to put down – a must read. ~ David on 21 July 2017

5-star rating on AmazonHonest and Raw …. Couldn’t put it down.
I have had the great privilege of knowing The Hon Carl Scully for quite a few years. His political memoir ‘Setting the Record Straight’, in my humble opinion, is a literary masterclass of contemporary Australian political history. Regardless of your bias, I urge you to procure a copy. But a caveat …allocate some spare time, because once you start, you will not be able to put it down. From cover to cover, you will be captivated by the sheer determination and tenacity it took for this incredible man to gain entry to the political snake pit; tolerate it’s many twists & turns; and achieve an incredible legacy for NSW. Carl was clearly born to serve, and his book brings to life many of the personal sacrifices he made through his journey in public life. The core theme I lifted from the pages was total focus & resilience. I am very proud to call Carl a mate! ~ Steve Osborne, MAICD, F Fin | Managing Director at Certegy Ezi-Pay Pty Ltd (a FlexiGroup Ltd company ASX:FXL) on June 29, 2017

5-star rating on AmazonA great read!
Scully, the former minister of the NSW State government has made good use of his time since leaving politics writing this memoir. He eloquently lays the boot into a number of key players behind the scenes from his preselection to the end of his political career. Well worth a read for anyone interested in politics and public life. ~ Amazon Customer on 22 July 2017

Kobo readers say …

5-starsThe best Premier we never had
I’m not particularly politically inclined, but I found this to be an entertaining and educational read. I’d highly recommend it to all. ~ by Dave on August 15, 2017

5-starsA truly engaging read
I couldn’t put the book down. Every page promised fascinating insights into state and federal politics in NSW and Australia. I often felt Carl Scully was sharing his story, personally, with me. It’s such an accessible and engaging read. And, he pulls no punches as he shares the journey he took from a teenager with a passion for political service to the position of state minister for the NSW government. I strongly recommended you read this book! ~  by Mark on July 31, 2017

5-starsSetting the Record Straight …
Carl Scully has proven himself to be an exceptional author. This memoir is a must read for every Australian, regardless of your political bias. From the very first word through to the last, ‘Setting the Record Straight’ is an articulate account of the highs & lows, some expected and others total ambushes, associated with public life. Carl draws you into his world where tenacity and resilience shine through. Literary genius! ~ by Steve O. on June 25, 2017

4-starsA comprehensive memoir from an honest politician …
Carl Scully should have been Premier of New South Wales but was thwarted by dishonourable and corrupt ALP colleagues. In this book he comprehensively sets out successes, admits his own shortcomings, and is frank in recording his disappointments. Scully convincingly answers his critics, in particular the journalists who ran an unrelenting and unfair campaign against him, lazily repeating false stories from Scully’s rivals and enemies. ~ by ennuu on June 24, 2017

5-starsGreat read, many lessons for Labor and the Libs…
The sixteen year Labor term came to a crashing end, but it probably didn’t have to… if the history of 2005-2007 hadn’t been plagued by backroom shenanigans and skullduggery. Scully clearly puts his version forward with plenty of stories to tell. Anyone who is interested in career politics and politicians should read this book… far from sour grapes, he seems an honest and decent man with a legitimate story to tell, corroborated by the fall of criminals and sycophants behind the scenes … ~ by Ric T. on June 18, 2017

Booktopia readers say ...

5-starsA thought provoking book and engaging book

This is a very honest and sometimes raw account of political leadership. Carl Scully has been brutally honest about how hard political life can be, but also provides lighter and often amusing anecdotes about his time in ministerial life over many years.

He provides a courageous account of the political skulduggery he had to endure which prevented him from achieving his dream of leading the Labor Party in government, but yet describes how he still achieved many great outcomes for the community despite all the challenges.
This book is really about leadership, how to attain it, keep it and use it for the improvement of life for others. He has a very intimate style and I felt as though he was sitting and chatting with me at home. It is easy reading and you won’t be able to put it down!

Set aside a few hours, grab a drink and enjoy the story. Scully is a master story teller.  ~ 25/7/2017